What Retailers Get Wrong About The Checkout Experience

Posted on July 14, 2020 by Michael Benarroch

What Retailers Get Wrong About The Checkout Experience

Posted on July 14, 2020 by Michael Benarroch

When you think of the building blocks of a great checkout experience, things like short lines and friendly cashiers often spring to mind. But they’re not the only elements that go into a successful checkout experience.

Simply put, the checkout experience is the last touchpoint you have with a customer before they leave your store. This is the sendoff where customers will ultimately feel good or bad after having shopped in your store, and whatever they’re feeling here will be the same sentiment they carry with them when they leave.

This is what is referred to as the Peak End Rule, or Recency Effect. Your customers are more likely to remember the “peak” and “end” of their experience or the most recent details. Given that checkout is the last part of their visit before they leave your store, this means that the checking out experience will stand out stronger than any other part of the shopping experience.

At this point in the sales process, customers need to walk away feeling positive about their experience in your store, or else you run the risk of ensuring those customers don’t return. Given that most customers will remember the beginning and end of their shopping experience, a poor or frustrating checkout experience can change the way your shoppers feel about you as a retailer.

Are you making any of these fatal checkout experience mistakes?

Mistake #1: Playing 20 questions

While scanning items and asking for payment, cashiers have been trained to push store credit cards and loyalty programs, ask for charity donations, request phone numbers and ZIP codes, and enrol customers in email promotions — when all customers want to do is make a simple purchase.

While these questions may be asked with good intentions, and they may end up benefiting the customer at some point, it can actually alienate customers. Stores who practice the checkout “interview” can give customers the impression that they’re only focused on marketing to the customer. They’re largely focused on their own needs and provide little to no value to the consumer during these interactions.

Granted, a loyalty card might earn them special discounts, but the biggest mistake is when stores are pitching their marketing efforts with no explanation of what’s in it for the customer.

And even when customers reluctantly agree, it doesn’t always indicate they’re interested in what you’re offering. Some customers may agree to newsletter subscriptions or loyalty programs just to get through the checkout phase of their experience, but too many questions can leave them with a feeling of negativity — and that’s never the best way to end a transaction.

Mistake #2: Lines and wait times

When you have five registers, each one is operating, and lines still exist, it’s much more palatable than seeing just five out of 15 registers open for business.

Customers want to see stores doing everything they can to serve them. However, larger retailers often have too many checkouts and not enough employees manning them, making them feel like the store isn’t doing enough to improve their customers’ in-store experience.

Though this issue largely involves individual perception, retailers should take customer sentiment into account when designing checkout areas and services, taking a proactive role in shaping positive perceptions versus contributing to negative ones.

Mistake #3: Forced self checkout experience

Self checkouts are rapidly transforming the point of purchase for retailers, but maybe not for the better. The concept is well meaning: customers who have a few items can breeze out of the store by checking themselves out instead of waiting in line.

But many customers still prefer the touch-point that human interaction provides when checking out with a cashier or sales person, rather than a machine or portal. It’s why many retailers who offer self checkout still offer regular checkout where customers can interact with a staff member. This is also a great opportunity to provide customer service at the last touch-point of the retail experience. 

If you do offer self checkout, make sure you’re not sacrificing the human element in the process.

Mistake #4: Upselling the wrong way

There’s a time and a place to offer additional products or services during checkout, and there’s a fine line between offering more service and value, and simply pestering customers to buy more. 

Ancillary products (or products that complement a purchase) are often appreciated by the customer, and it benefits the retailer, too. The customer is already in the process of purchasing, so offering coordinating items, such as an HDMI cable for their new TV, makes sense for the customer’s purchase and can help you, as a retailer, drive additional sales. 

But the checkout process is a nuanced one, and offering products at this point in the customer’s buying journey means ensuring you’re putting products of value in front of them. If they don’t make sense for your customers, or they don’t see merit in purchasing more, it may turn them off from returning to your store. 

How to improve the checkout experience

Good checkout design offers plenty of benefits to your employees and customers alike. The more efficient and streamlined the process, the better able your team is to serve your customers with ease and deliver on the experience they expect from you.

During the checkout process, retailers have a unique opportunity to create a positive, beneficial last impression before the buyer leaves the store. Keeping the Peak End Rule and Recency Effect in mind, retailers should focus on good service design instead of trying to cram last-minute sales into the mix. Though you may get a few email signups, credit card applications, or small ticket add-ons in the short term, these activities may not be enough to retain loyal customers for the long term.

What will keep customers coming back are things they actually care about in the checkout process. This means:

●       Keeping lines short by having multiple points of purchase available.

●      Training employees so that elements like price checks, overrides, or register functions don’t hold up the process.

●      Streamlining the bagging procedures, especially if you have to remove hangers or wrap delicate items so they don’t break.

●       Keeping requests of the customer to a minimum, such as signing up for rewards programs or applying for credit cards.

●      When additional items are offered, make sure they’re relevant to the customer and not just the closest thing within arm’s reach.

●      Offering additional payment options to cater to user preferences, such as touchless or mobile payments.

●      Making queue lines easy to understand and positioning them in a way that customers are served on a first-come, first-served basis.

When customers have to jump through hoops to complete a purchase, they may be less likely to make another one in the future. They’re already giving you their time, attention, and money — it’s crucial you make the experience seamless and positive.


Taking thoughts and making them a reality, our design process is rooted in balancing your brand’s strengths, your customers’ experience, your merchandise, and your business growth plans. We know what it takes to create a retail location that converts. Contact us to learn how our expert team can help your retail store thrive.